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Tri-State digs out afters season's first big snowfall

January 27, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Roads were treacherous and there was low visibility on Dual Highway during a snowstorm Wednesday afternoon.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Crews worked Thursday to clear roads and restore electricity following a winter storm that dumped wet, heavy snow on the Tri-State area Wednesday, snapping trees and power lines and wreaking havoc on Interstate 70.

The Snow Emergency Plan was lifted in Washington County, effective at 9:30 a.m., Maryland State Police reported.

As of 8:25 a.m., Interstate 70 in Frederick and Washington counties had been reopened to traffic, said Kim Frum, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Frum said the state has approximately 2,100 vehicles clearing snow - 100 of them in Washington County.

"We are out there in force at 100 percent capacity," Frum said Thursday morning.

Frum advised people to drive with caution. Vehicles are packing the snow down in some areas and roadways remain icy in some areas.

"You're going to find varied conditions throughout the area," she said.

The storm left thousands of people without power across the Tri-State region, according to Allegheny Power.

According to the power company's website, 41 Washington County customers were still without power as of 3:30 p.m. Thursday. There were 2,932 customers without power in Frederick County, Md., 15 in Jefferson County, W.Va., 55 in Morgan County, W.Va. and 10 in Berkeley County, W.Va., the website reported.

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I-70 on South Mountain had essentially shut down in both directions Wednesday night because motorists couldn't make it up the mountain in the snow, said Wayne Bockstantz, a supervisor at Washington County's 911 center.

Drivers were sitting along the interstate waiting for snow plows, which could not keep up with the snow, Bockstantz said.

"It's a mess," Bockstantz said Wednesday night.

Further east, westbound I-70 was closed on Braddock Mountain in Frederick County at about 4:30 a.m. Thursday after tractor-trailers became stuck on the highway.

U.S. 340 at the Potomac River near Jefferson County was also shut down Wednesday night because of two tractor-trailers that jackknifed in the area, Bockstantz said. The highway was closed back to Millville Road in Jefferson County, officials said.

Another two tractor-trailers that jackknifed on Interstate 68 at the Woodmont Road exit forced the closure of the roadway at that location, Bockstantz said.

Hazardous conditions on W.Va. 9 east of U.S. 340 on Wednesday night also left multiple vehicles stuck in the Blue Ridge Mountain area and forced authorities to close the highway between the Bloomery bridge and in the vicinity of Blue Ridge Elementary School, according to a Jefferson County emergency dispatch supervisor.

Authorities in Franklin and Fulton counties in Pennsylvania said they didn't have any designated road closures, but driving conditions were treacherous Wednesday night.

Tractor-trailers stuck on the mountain between the two counties prompted authorities to close Pa. 16 shortly after the storm started, according to state troopers from the McConnellsburg barrack.

They said the road was reopened later in the evening.

According to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer's website at i4weather.net, 8 inches of snow and ice had fallen on Hagerstown as of 4:30 a.m. Thursday.

Other, unofficial, snowfall totals as of Wednesday night reported to the National Weather Service included:

  • Smith Crossroads in Morgan County, W.Va., 10.4 inches
  • Charles Town, W.Va., 10 inches
  • Shepherdstown, W.Va., 10 inches
  • Martinsburg, W.Va., 8.8 inches
  • Falling Waters, W.Va., 8.2 inches
  • Orrstown, Pa.., 6.1 inches

Ed Plank, director of the Washington County Highway Department, said he was dealing with two major issues Wednesday night: trees snapping under the weight of the snow, and special precautions that were needed to remove it.

"Trees are dropping like flies all over the county," Plank said.

That prevented plow workers from clearing snow until crews could cut up the trees, Plank said.

The wet snow not only takes longer to move but crews have to be careful pushing it because it can easily damage property like mailboxes, Plank said.

Although Washington County had not resorted to private contractors to remove snow before the storm, the special workers were called out Wednesday night, Plank said.

Because of the weight of the wet snow, residents should take precautions in shoveling it, James Ulrich of Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services warned.

Shoveling even just a few inches of this kind of snow can cause increased exertion, to the point that the elderly and those with cardiac problems could easily become winded, pass out, or suffer a heart attack, Ulrich said.

Ulrich encouraged people to take their time shoveling, to stay hydrated, to take breaks often and to bring a buddy or someone else along when shoveling.

  — Staff writers Matthew Umstead and Jennifer Fitch contributed to this story.

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